U.S. court sides with Oakland in free speech
By Julia Cheever, Bay City News Service
March 5, 2007
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - A federal appeals court in San
Francisco ruled today that Oakland city officials had the right
to remove a flier posted by two city workers to announce a religious
group devoted to traditional family values.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the action by a supervisor
in the city's Community and Economic Development Agency in 2003
didn't violate the free speech rights of the two workers.
The two employees, Regina Rederford and Robin Christy, posted
the flier on a City Hall employee bulletin board after another
group of workers announced a meeting of a gay and lesbian employee
The flier announced the formation of a group called the Good
News Employee Association.
It was entitled "Preserve Our Workplace with Integrity"
and called on "people of faith" to join in a forum to
express their views "with respect for the natural family,
marriage and family values."
Although the brief announcement did not mention homosexuality,
city officials said the message was homophobic and aimed at sexual-orientation
harassment in violation of city antidiscrimination policy.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court sided with Oakland and
upheld a similar ruling issued by U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker
in San Francisco in 2005.
The court said there was only "minimal interference with
appellants' free speech rights" because officials removed
only a single flier and allowed the workers to submit a new flier,
subject to certain editorial restrictions.
The court wrote, "Public employers are permitted to curtail
employee speech as long as their legitimate administrative interests
outweigh the employees' interest in freedom of speech."
The panel said city officials "had a more substantial interest
in maintaining the efficient operation of their office than appellants
had in their speech."
Erica Harrold, a spokeswoman for the Oakland city attorney's
office, said, "We're grateful that the courts are supporting
our stance that people should not be harassed in the workplace."
Lawyer for the two workers were not immediately available for
comment, but in the past have said they would appeal to the Supreme
Court if necessary.
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